Two NASA T-38 training jets are seen as they fly near the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, April 5, 2012, in Washington. NASA, in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration, conducted training and photographic flights over the DC metropolitan area.
Credit: NASA/Paul E. Alers
Scientists will visit Capitol Hill Tuesday (May 21) to testify before Congress about what it will take to send humans to Mars.
A hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives' Science, Space and Technology Committee is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST, and will feature astronomers known for their expertise in moon and Mars exploration, as well as a former NASA official and a co-founder of The Planetary Society, a nonprofit dedicated to space exploration.
President Obama has challenged NASA to send astronauts to Mars by the mid 2030s, with an earlier goal of landing on an asteroid in the 2020s. Scientists say both ambitions are challenging, and will require new technologies — as well as steady funding — to come to fruition.
The space agency has already begun work on a new rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and a new crew capsule called Orion to transport astronauts to deep space. More work will be needed on additional technologies, such as improved shielding from space radiation, and advanced navigation and communications equipment, as well.
A manned mission to Mars was the topic of a recent conference in Washington, D.C. called the Humans 2 Mars Summit. There, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden reaffirmed the agency's commitment to a manned mission to Mars.
"Interest in sending humans to Mars I think has never been higher," Bolden said May 6. "We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man's destiny — to step onto another planet."
Witnesses presenting at Tuesday's Congressional hearing will include:
- Paul Spudis, a geologist specializing in lunar science at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston
- Steve Squyres, a Cornell University astronomer who is principal investigator of NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars
- Douglas Cooke, former associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate who now owns the Cooke Concepts and Solutions consulting company
- Louis Friedman, co-leader of the Keck Institute for Space Studies Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study and co-founder and executive director emeritus of The Planetary Society
The panel is organized by the Subcommittee on Space, and will be held at the 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. You can watch the Mars mission hearing webcast live on SPACE.com, or directly from the House webcast feed here.